Catching fire

Lady Panthers pull away with 20-7 run in win over Chautauqua Lake

Photo by Scott Reagle Panama’s Natalie Angeletti knocks the ball away from Chautauqua Lake’s Emily Phelps (23) during a non-league girls’ basketball game Thursday night.

MAYVILLE — Panama and Chautauqua Lake were each crowned sectional champions within hours of each other last spring at Jamestown Community College.

The Panthers’ season would last a few more weeks, ending with a loss in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D final.

The Thunderbirds’ would last just a few more days, ending with a loss to Frewsburg in the Section VI Class C crossover game.

Thursday evening, the two matched up in their non-league season opener with the physical — albeit sometimes sloppy — tilt turning in the Panthers’ favor late as they pulled away for a 51-34 victory.

“When you set the schedule up you try to challenge yourselves,” Panama coach Jeff Angeletti said. ” … It’s definitely a challenge coming over here. … That’s a heck of a team. They forced a lot of turnovers. … I give a lot of credit to that team.”

Sophomore Natalie Angeletti, a returning Post-Journal First-Team All-Star, led Panama with 18 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

“Natalie is a great player. She really extends your defense a lot,” Chautauqua Lake coach Bill Persons said. “She can go inside-outside and really offsets things when she’s on her A game.”

The three-time defending sectional champion Panthers enter the season with a slightly different look than last season. Gone are forward Nicole Johnson, who took her talents to Jamestown Community College, Tara Sweeney and junior Madalyn Bowen, who has chosen to focus on volleyball this winter. But they do return Angeletti as well as fellow starters Lauren Barmore and Abi Lisciandro.

The Thunderbirds have some key players of their own to replace in Taylor Phelps and Lakin Gustafson, both of whom are also playing for coach Travis Wells and the Jayhawks. Persons will look to add to returning starters Katelyn Fardink and Jesse Zenns with eighth-graders Lexi Jacobson and Lily Woods. Jacobson started last season on the jayvee team at Southwestern before being called up to varsity midway through season and transfering over the summer.

“My younger players are right there,” Persons said. “Lexi and Lily are great kids and have played a lot of basketball. They are still young and they are going to make those young mistakes. All of that will come with experience.”

Thursday night’s season opener turned in the fourth quarter. Panama entered the final eight minutes with a 31-27 lead, but put the Thunderbirds away with a 20-7 frame.

“We were getting outhustled a little bit,” Persons said. “We just got lazy on some of our passes, turned the ball over a little too much and gave them extra possessions that we needed in the end to close the gap.”

Panama junior Karianne Yuchnitz opened the quarter with a 3-pointer before two buckets from Angeletti and another from sophomore Kylie Schnars. Two possessions later, Lisciandro missed a 3-pointer, but gathered her own miss and scored on a putback to push the Panthers’ lead to 15 with 4:39 left.

“She is so athletic,” Angeletti said of Schnars. “Once she gets a little bit more confidence in herself … our teammates believe in her, but once she figures that out she is going to be a dominant player, there’s no doubt in my mind.”

Chautauqua Lake led 6-1 early, but Angeletti made a 3-pointer for Panama’s first field goal and two possessions later Lisciandro hit a 3-pointer to give the Panthers a 7-6 lead they would never relinquish. Panama led 15-8 after the opening eight minutes, but a pair of Woodis 3-pointers in the second quarter helped keep the Thunderbirds close as they trailed 22-19 at halftime.

“She is going to surprise people down the road. She’s a great kid,” Persons said of Woodis. “She’s another one that can grow a few more inches and really extend the defense with her size. She’s not afraid of mixing things up on the offensive end.”

Yuchnitz had a pair of baskets for Panama while Emily Phelps had 5 points for Chautauqua Lake in the low-scoring third quarter, which favored the Panthers, 9-8.

“We saw a lot of that in the summer league and in our St. Bonaventure team camp where she was knocking down the big shots,” Angeletti said of Yuchnitz. ” … She’s got a heck of a move to the hole too.”

Zenns led Chautauqua Lake with 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks while Woodis added 9 points. Lexi Jacobson assisted on six of the Thunderbirds’ 10 made field goals.

“This definitely had a playoff caliber-type feel to come out with,” Persons said. “To get better you have to play better teams. There are no better teams to play than the teams that have been going to states for the last couple of years.”

NOTES: Lisciandro led Panama with six assists to go along with seven rebounds and two steals while Yuchnitz had three assists and three steals. … Phelps had five steals and Perdue had three for Chautauqua Lake. … The Thunderbirds were 10 of 50 from the field, including 4 of 25 from 3-point range. … The Panthers were 19 of 51 from the field, including 4 of 18 from 3-point range.